The Rise and Fall of Neonatal Circumcision
The Irrational Abuse Of Helpless Children
By George Hill
November 4, 2002
The practice of circumcising male infants was once regarded as a sacred
cow - immune from criticism - in the United States. Other nations,
however, look on the practice as barbaric and irrational abuse of helpless
children. Circumcision now is being questioned as never before. This
article will review many of the reasons circumcision is coming under such
The practice of male circumcision as a medical procedure started in the
late 19th century. Previously, the practice of circumcision was
exclusively a religious practice without any claim of medical benefit.
The first reported medical circumcision in America was performed in New
York in 1870 to cure paralysis of a boy’s legs.
Circumcision was advocated to prevent masturbation in boys. In the
Victorian era, medical science, if it could be called science, had little
or no real understanding of the causes of mental illness. Many doctors
believed that thinking immoral thoughts could somehow injure the brain,
cause malfunction, feeblemindedness, and mental illness. If masturbation
could be stopped by circumcision, then mental health could be promoted!
Circumcision, however, did not stop masturbation; it only caused a change
in technique. Doctors then found other reasons to do circumcisions - such
as epilepsy, paralysis of the bladder, and club feet. Remondino, a San
Diego physician, claimed that circumcision prevented hip joint disease,
hemorrhoids, bladder irritation, asthma, Bright’s disease, nocturnal
pollutions, and many other harmful conditions.
Abraham Wolbarst, a New York physician, published an influential article
in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1914.
The article, entitled "Universal Circumcision as a Sanitary Measure," was
short on scientific evidence, but long on unsupported opinion by various
doctors that circumcision was essential for good health.
Venereal disease (VD), now known as sexually transmitted disease (STD),
was a major fear in those days, so circumcision was promoted to prevent
contracting VD. The prevention of VD amongst the troops was a major
concern, so many men were circumcised by the military forces during World
Wars I and II in the mistaken assumption that circumcision would prevent
contraction of VD. Today, however, medical evidence does not support the
practice of male circumcision to prevent VD.
Women started to give birth in hospitals assisted by an obstetrician.
Obstetricians took the opportunity to provide an additional service (for a
fee of course). That service was the circumcision of baby boys before they
left the hospital. These neonatal circumcisions frequently were performed
without the consent of the parents.
Circumcision in the United States became almost universal. By the late
1960s, more than 90 percent of boys were circumcised soon after birth.
The year, 1970, marked the beginning of the end of this era. Important
articles appeared in medical journals in Australia and the United States
that refuted the benefits claimed, and in 1971 the American Academy of
Pediatrics stated, "There are no valid medical indications for
circumcision in the neonatal period."
An important court decision in 1972 instituted far reaching changes in
American medical practice. Now, consent must be obtained only after fully
informing the patient of the benefits. Infants cannot consent so the
medical profession assumed that the parents could consent to the
circumcision. Not all parents were willing to consent to a procedure with
no medical indication, so the decline of circumcision started.
Economic and psychological forces tend to preserve the practice of infant
circumcision. Doctors like the extra revenue. Also, most male doctors who
practice medicine today were circumcised as infants. Males do not like to
admit that the injury to their phallus was unjustified, so circumcised
doctors and fathers tend to look for reasons to do a circumcision on an
New evidence of risks, complications, psychological, and sexual injury are
acting to oppose the forces seeking to preserve the practice of
Complications include bleeding, infection, surgical mishaps, including
urethral fistula, amputation of the head, removal of excess skin, and
total loss of the penis. Death may occur from the complications of
bleeding or infection.
Circumcision removes more than 50 percent of the skin and specialized
mucosa from the penis. The specialized mucosa contains most of the nerve
endings in the penis. Later disadvantages include painful erections due to
loss of the skin necessary to accommodate penile expansion. The loss of
nerves interferes with the normal operation of the autonomic nervous
system resulting in premature ejaculation, inability to orgasm, and
changes in sexual behavior. A survey of women found that women are four
times more likely to orgasm if their male partner has an intact foreskin.
The foreskin is part of nature’s defenses against infection and disease.
The moisture in the preputial sack contains lysozyme that destroys
pathogens including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In the infant
male, the long narrow foreskin has muscle fibers arranged in a whorl at
the tip to form a sphincter to keep the tip closed and fecal matter out
and away from the urethra, helping to prevent urinary tract infection in
infants. Circumcision destroys these natural defenses. Circumcised men
have more of certain types of STD.
Circumcision trauma interferes with parent-infant bonding and the
initiation of breastfeeding.
A consensus is emerging that male neonatal circumcision is not in the best
interest of the child. Studies show that intact boys enjoy better penile
health than circumcised boys. A British court heard evidence, determined
that circumcision was not in the child’s best interests, and issued
protective orders to prevent a circumcised father from having his son
There are new ethical questions regarding the propriety of doctors
excising healthy functional tissue from the penis of baby boys who cannot
consent to the loss of form and function.
Parents are not getting accurate information from most doctors. Parents
should see red flags when a doctor mentions circumcision to them. The
medical evidence indicates that intact males enjoy better penile,
physical, sexual, and emotional health, with a better sense of well being,
Doctors Opposing Circumcision has addressed this matter in a letter to the
American Academy of Pediatrics that cites numerous compromises of good
medical practice, bioethics, and medical law in the AAP Circumcision
Policy Statement. Furthermore, legal commentators now think that parents
have no power to consent to the non-therapeutic excision of healthy
functional tissue from a child’s genital organs to alter their form and
function. If correct, this would mean that every non-therapeutic
circumcision is a battery.
An adult male in Australia sued the doctor who circumcised him and
received a substantial cash settlement for his injury. An adult male in
New York recently sued the doctor and hospital alleging injuries from his
neonatal circumcision. Such cases could persuade medical doctors that the
continued practice of male circumcision is not in their best interest. The
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan recently issued a
warning memorandum to its doctors.
The practice of circumcision is collapsing in Australia and Canada. Six
medical societies in Australia recently issued a statement condemning the
practice of neonatal circumcision. The death of healthy baby boy in
British Columbia two days after his circumcision has lead to harsh new
criticism of the practice. The practice, already unpopular in Canada, may
soon end completely there.
These medical, ethical, and legal concerns appear to be bringing the
unhappy era of male circumcision to a close. Forty-two percent of American
baby boys now leave the hospital intact (up from eight percent in 1970), a
525% increase, and the increase in numbers of intact boys is likely to
continue. Circumcision is no longer routine and no longer sacred in
George Hill is a retired airline jet captain, father of an intact son,
and advocate for genital integrity. He is the Executive Secretary of
Doctors Opposing Circumcision http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org